James Gunn fired from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 3’ after offensive tweets resurface

Disney fired director James Gunn from the set of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the company confirmed at Comic-Con this week. The move came after highly offensive joke tweets dating from between 2008 and 2011 resurfaced. The tweets, which have since been deleted, make light of topics ranging from molestation and rape to pedophilia.

“The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values, and we have severed our business relationship with him,” Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

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Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps

The Data Transfer Project is a new team-up between tech giants to let you move your content, contacts, and more across apps. Founded by Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft, the DTP today revealed its plans for an open source data portability platform any online service can join. While many companies already let you download your information, that’s not very helpful if you can’t easily upload and use it elsewhere — whether you want to evacuate a social network you hate, back up your data somewhere different, or bring your digital identity along when you try a new app. The DTP’s tool isn’t ready for use yet, but the group today laid out a white paper for how it will work. Creating an industry standard for data portability could force companies to compete on utility instead of being protected by data lock-in that traps users because it’s tough to switch services.
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Trump just noticed Europe’s $5BN antitrust fine for Google

In other news bears shit in the woods. In today’s second day Trump news: President ‘The Donald’ has seized, belatedly, on the European Commission’s announcement yesterday that it had found Google guilty of three types of illegal antitrust behavior with its Android OS since 2011 and was fining the company $5 billion; a record breaking penalty the Commission’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said reflects the length and gravity of the company’s competition infringements. Trump is not! at all! convinced! though! “I told you so!” he has tweeted triumphantly just now. “The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google . They truly have taken advantage of the U.S., but not for long!”

Twitter is holding off on fixing verification policy to focus on election integrity

Twitter is pausing its work on overhauling its verification process, which provides a blue checkmark to public figures, in favor of election integrity, Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour tweeted today. That’s because, as we enter another election season, “updating our verification program isn’t a top priority for us right now (election integrity is),” he wrote on Twitter this afternoon. Last November, Twitter paused its account verifications as it tried to figure out a way to address confusion around what it means to be verified. That decision came shortly after people criticized Twitter for having verified the account of Jason Keller, the person who organized the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fast forward to today, and Twitter still verifies accounts “ad hoc when we think it serves the public conversation & is in line with our policy,” Beykpour wrote. “But this has led to frustration b/c our process remains
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“Fake Followers” are “Social Spam”

Just about 12 years ago, at a costume party hosted by Ruby Red Labs in the SOMA district of San Francisco, I got a chance to talk to one of the now-forgotten founders of Twitter, Noah Glass. He showed me Twitter (or Twttr as it was known back then). I tried it and must have liked it because I went home (admittedly just a few blocks away) and in a slightly inebriated state wrote about the product and Twitter was launched. It is perhaps why I retain a lot of affection for the product, and its co-founders. I am not shy about expressing my displeasure, but in general, Twitter has been a great little addition to my life. And perhaps that is why I was pleased to learn on my twelfth anniversary of using Twitter (which reminded me of that, obviously) I lost 200,000 followers. I was part of the big fake account and bot purge that Twitter has recently embarked on. The New York Times says that there are about 48 million active users are what it calls “automated accounts designed to simulate real people.) As The New York Times noted — Oprah ( down 1.4 million), Ellen (down 2 million), Justin Bieber (down over 3 million) and Kim Kardashian (down 3 percent) — lost many more. I would be happy to lose half or even more of my followers if that means cleaning up the service, increasing the signal and dampening the noise. I think the challenge for social platforms like Twitter is that real engagement is being drowned by the noise in the system – fake accounts and bots.  Continue reading "“Fake Followers” are “Social Spam”"

Twitter launches its Ads Transparency Center, where you can see ads bought by any account

Twitter is unveiling the Ads Transparency Center that it announced back in October. This comes as Twitter and other online platforms have faced growing political scrutiny around the role they may have played in spreading misinformation, particularly in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. For example, House Democrats recently released thousands of Russian-funded political Facebook ads, and Facebook will reportedly release its own ad transparency tool this week. (In fact, as this story publishes, I’m at a Facebook press event focused on ad transparency.) Twitter says that with this tool, you should be able to search for any Twitter handle and bring up all the ad campaigns from that account that have run for the past seven days. For political advertisers in the U.S., there will be additional data, including information around billing, ad spend, impressions per tweet and demographic targeting. Everyone should be able to
Twitter political ads
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Twitter puts a tighter squeeze on spambots

Twitter has announced a range of actions intended to bolster efforts to fight spam and “malicious automation” (aka bad bots) on its platform — including increased security measures around account verification and sign-up; running a historical audit to catch spammers who signed up when its systems were more lax; and taking a more proactive approach to identifying spam activity to reduce its ability to make an impact. It says the new steps build on previously announced measures to fight abuse and trolls, and new policies on hateful conduct and violent extremism. The company has also recently been publicly seeking new technology and staff to fight spam and abuse. All of which is attempting to turn around Twitter’s reputation for being awful at tackling abuse. “Our focus is increasingly on proactively identifying problematic accounts and behavior rather than waiting until we receive a report,” Twitter’s Yoel Roth and Del Harvey write in the latest
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Chirp brings Twitter to Apple Watch

Twitter’s history of being a bit unfriendly to developers building third-party clients hasn’t frightened off Will Bishop. The young Australian developer recently released a version of Twitter for Apple Watch called Chirp, in order to fill the void created by Twitter pulling its official app last fall. (Let’s see how long it will last, shall we?) Bishop says he was already interested in building for Apple Watch before Chirp, having previously developed a micro version of Reddit called Nano. Afterwards, he heard from a lot of people asking for a Twitter watch app, he says. “Seeing as so many people were disappointed when Twitter pulled their official app, it only made sense to at least try,” Bishop says of building Chirp. “A lot of people think using your watch for more than 30 seconds is ridiculous, but I figure if people want to use it, let them.”
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Twitter buys a startup to battle harassment, e-cigs are booming, and a meditation app is worth $250M

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley Editor Connie Loizos and I jammed out on a couple topics as Alex Wilhelm was out managing his fake stock game spreadsheets or something. (The jury is out on whether this was a good or bad thing.) First up is Twitter buying Smyte, a startup targeting fixes for spam and abuse. This is, of course, Twitter’s perennial problem and it’s one that it’s been trying to fix for some time — but definitely not there yet. The deal terms weren’t disclosed, but Twitter to its credit has seen its stock basically double this year (and almost triple in the past few years). Twitter is going into a big year, with the U.S. midterm elections, the 2018 World Cup, and the Sacramento Kings probably
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Twitter acquires anti-abuse technology provider Smyte

Twitter this morning announced it has agreed to buy San Francisco-based technology company Smyte, which describes itself as “trust and safety as a service.” Founded in 2014 by former Google and Instagram engineers, Smyte offers tools to stop online abuse, harassment, and spam, and protect user accounts. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but this is Twitter’s first acquisition since buying consumer mobile startup Yes, Inc. back in December 2016 Online harassment has been of particular concern to Twitter in recent months, as the level of online discourse across the web has become increasingly hate-filled and abusive. The company has attempted to combat this problem with new policies focused on the reduction of hate speech, violent threats, and harassment on its platform, but it’s fair to say that problem is nowhere near solved. As anyone who uses Twitter will tell you, the site continues to be filled with
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Tech leaders condemn policy leading to family separations at the border

By now you’ve seen the photos and videos and probably heard the audio tape. The media coming out of the U.S./Mexico border over the past week has been truly heart-wrenching and horrifying, including, most shockingly, images of young children being housed in what amounts to human cages.

Many prominent politicians across the world (and in the G.O.P.) have called out the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the border. A number of prominent executives from top tech companies have also begun to use their soapbox to address — and largely admonish — the policies that have led to this humanitarian crisis.

Here’s what those individuals are saying.

Microsoft

Microsoft was among the first tech giants to issue a statement about the situation. The official company line was both an admonishment of current administration policy and somewhat defensive after speculation arose that the company’s cloud

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Pew: Social media still growing in emerging markets but stalled elsewhere

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s (so far) five-year project to expand access to the Internet in emerging markets makes plenty of business sense when you look at the latest report by the Pew Research Center — which shows social media use has plateaued across developed markets but continues to rise in the developing world. In 2015-16, roughly four-in-ten adults across the emerging nations surveyed by Pew said they used social networking sites, and as of 2017, a majority (53%) use social media. Whereas, over the same period, social media use has generally been flat in many of the advanced economies surveyed. Internet use and smartphone ownership have also stayed level in developed markets over the same period vs rising in emerging economies. Pew polled more than 40,000 respondents in 37 countries over a roughly three month period in February to May last year for this piece of research. The results show
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Juul tightens up social media to focus on former smokers switching to e-cigs

Juul Labs, the company behind the ever-popular Juul e-cig, has today announced a new policy around social media. This comes in the midst of Juul’s effort to get FDA approval, which has been made more arduous by the fact that the FDA has cracked down on Juul after learning how popular the device is with underage users. As part of the new policy, Juul will no longer feature models in pictures posted on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. FWIW, Juul doesn’t even have a Snapchat. Instead of using models to market the e-cig, Juul Labs will now use real former smokers who switched from combustible cigarette to Juul. Juul has always said that its product was meant to serve as an alternative to combustible cigarettes, which are considered far more harmful to your health. Juul has also initiated an internal team focused on flagging and reporting social media content
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Twitter wants to inject live events into every area of the app

The chronological news feed has been a bit of a looming specter for Twitter . Sure, it’s their bread-and-butter, but it only works for users who are willing to put in the time to prune their own feeds and strip away follows while constantly keeping an eye out for new accounts. For Twitter, a major challenge is discovering how they can update the experience for casual users who follow a few accounts but haven’t gotten deep into the discovery phase yet. Twitter’s efforts to double-down on surfacing live events coverage and catering to users’ specific areas of interest have been an evolving mission for the company, but today, they are announcing some of their boldest moves yet to change how the app grows to understand a user base on their interactions. Twitter is making some major updates to the Explore feed, which will now surface curated pages dedicated to news stories
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Twitter’s emoji for Trump’s North Korea nuclear summit is very weird

As U.S. President Trump preps for a historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Twitter doesn’t want you to forget to tweet about it under the right hashtag. In a choice that seems to make light of a lot of really quite serious things at once, Twitter is promoting its new #TrumpKimSummit emoji for Tuesday’s summit in Singapore.

The event-specific symbol features what appears to be a high-five between a hand representing the U.S. president and one representing the North Korean dictator known for executing his political enemies and exiling large swaths of his nation to prison camps, where they face starvation and torture. Presumably they are high-fiving over the successful

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The erosion of Web 2.0

It seems quaint to imagine now but the original vision for the web was not an information superhighway. Instead, it was a newspaper that fed us only the news we wanted. This was the central thesis brought forward in the late 1990s and prophesied by thinkers like Bill Gates – who expected a beautiful, customized “road ahead” – and Clifford Stoll who saw only snake oil. At the time, it was the most compelling use of the Internet those thinkers thought possible. This concept – that we were to be coddled by a hive brain designed to show us exactly what we needed to know when we needed to know it – continued apace until it was supplanted by the concept of User Generated Content – UGC – a related movement that tore down gatekeepers and all but destroyed propriety in the online world. That was the arc of Web
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We are all trapped in the “Feed”

Every afternoon, during lunch, I open up YouTube, and I find myself marveling at the sheer dumbness of its recommendations. Despite having all this viewing data of mine, world’s second most popular search engine is dumb as a brick. It shows me propaganda channels from two ends of the political spectrum. It surfaces some inane celebrity videos. It dredges up the worst material for me — considering I usually like watch science videos, long conversations and interviews, and photography-focused educational videos. Continue reading "We are all trapped in the “Feed”"

Twitter will give political candidates a special badge during US midterm elections

Ahead of 2018 U.S. midterm elections, Twitter is taking a visible step to combat the spread of misinformation on its famously chaotic platform. In a blog post this week, the company explained how it would be adding “election labels” to the profiles of candidates running for political office. “Twitter has become the first place voters go to seek accurate information, resources, and breaking news from journalists, political candidates, and elected officials,” the company wrote in its announcement. “We understand the significance of this responsibility and our teams are building new ways for people who use Twitter to identify original sources and authentic information.” These labels feature a small government building icon and text identifying the position a candidate is running for and the state or district where the race is taking place. The label information included in the profile will also appear elsewhere on Twitter, even when
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Twitter unveils new political ad guidelines set to go into effect this summer

Following the unrelenting wave of controversy around Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Twitter announced new guidelines today for political advertisements on the social networking site. The policy, which will go into effect this summer ahead of midterm elections, will look towards preventing foreign election interference by requiring organizations to self-identify and certify that they are based in the U.S., this will entail organization registered by the Federal Elections Committee to present their FEC ID, while other orgs will have to present a notarized form, the company says. Orgs buying political ads will also have to comply with a stricter set of rules for how they present their profiles. Twitter will mandate that the account header, profile photo and organization name are consistent with how the organization presents itself online elsewhere, a policy likely designed to ensure that orgs don’t try to obfuscate their identity or present
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